If he is re-elected come Nov. 2, President George W. Bush’s education proposals for his second term would include plans to build an eLearning Clearinghouse to promote all the online courses available to students and adults from both public and private sources.

The Clearinghouse, announced earlier this month at the National Republican Convention, would make it easier to find distance education courses, online professional development opportunities, and virtual field trips.

It also would help American students keep up with other nations when it comes to schooling and continuing their education, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said. Paige touted the Clearinghouse Sept. 13 as one solution that would help reverse the findings of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual international report on education.

President Bush’s education proposals are focused on preparing students to succeed in 21st-century jobs. (Bush-Cheney ’04 photo)

Compared with other nations, the report says, the U.S. is slipping behind in the areas of college attainment, college dropout rates, and high school reading literacy.

The Clearinghouse, combined with Bush’s plan to expand yearly testing from grades 3-8 to grades 9-11 as well, “is exactly the right approach to get our high schools ready for the 21st century,” Paige said.

Students, parents, and adults would be able to search for specific courses based on various criteria, such as price, schedule, and type of provider–including nonprofit or for-profit organizations and institutions of higher education. People who have taken the courses also could give their feedback through a user rating system.

Some ed-tech advocates said they were surprised by the president’s technology proposal, because they’ve been busy lobbying against proposed cuts to federal ed-tech funding.

“In an era when we’re fighting to keep [the Enhancing Education through Technology block-grant program] from being cut, and we’ve already seen other cuts, it’s surprising to see a new proposal like this,” one ed-tech advocate said.

John Bailey, deputy policy director for the Bush campaign and former director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, noted that the $91 million in proposed cuts to the federal block-grant program originated in the House of Representatives. He also emphasized that opportunities to fund technology initiatives are available in most federal education programs.

In addition to the eLearning Clearinghouse, Bush’s proposals, which largely focus on preparing students for 21st-century jobs, include another new initiative that couldn’t succeed without technology.

Bush has proposed providing $200 million to encourage schools to use eighth-grade testing data to develop individualized learning plans, or “performance plans,” for high school students. As part of the plans, teachers would periodically test students with computer programs that suggest specific lessons for remedial work.

“This is an incredible investment in educational technology,” Bailey said. “It recognizes the power technology has & to personalize education for each student with unique resources.”

Additionally, Bush’s Adjunct Teacher Corps, a new $40 million proposal, would help alleviate teacher shortages by bring professionals into middle and high school classrooms to teach core subjects such as math and science. And Bush has proposed $28 million to increase the number of Advanced Placement courses offered. Distance education could play a role in providing fulfilling both of these objectives, Bailey said.

“You’re going to find there’s a solid technology foundation in all of these proposals,” Bailey said. “This, in part, is why you had over 100 high-tech CEOs endorsing the president.”

The campaign for Democratic challenger John F. Kerry was unavailable for comment on Bush’s proposals before press time. But in a policy paper submitted to eSchool News for publication in October, Kerry outlined an agenda that included increasing access to technology for underserved students; expanding the federal Community Technology Centers program, which Bush has proposed eliminating in each of his four years as president; pay incentives to raise the salaries of teachers in high-need locations and subject areas, such as math and science; and high-quality mentoring programs to keep new teachers in the profession.

Tim Stroud, chief executive officer of the North America Council for Online Learning (NACOL), said his group is interested in Bush’s eLearning Clearinghouse announcement. “We think that it’s a great idea, because it models our objectives that we have been working on with the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation,” Stroud said.

With a Gates Foundation grant, NACOL has taken WestEd’s Distance Learning Resource Network, one of the first available resources for virtual schooling information, and is in the process of transforming it into a full-fledged clearinghouse.

The first phase of NACOL’s project, which started last January, is to create a searchable database that includes information on about 140 eLearning providers, each state’s laws governing virtual education, and existing research that supports online learning.

The second phase would include listing the specific courses offered and which student populations they serve. NACOL also is developing a certification program for eLearning courses that would provide them with “a seal of quality,” Stroud said.

By proposing an eLearning Clearinghouse, the Bush administration is responding to the growing prevalence and popularity of online learning. And with all the choices out there, the initiative likely would help students, parents, and adults identify high-quality courses, Stroud said.

Eduventures’ most recent report on eLearning said 300,000 students had participated in an online course in 2002-03, Stroud said, and 15 percent of public high schools offered at least one online course.

“I don’t think this is a shift,” he said. “I don’t think this is just an administration initiative. I think this has grown out of changes in the public education community and the private for-profit community–and acceptance of eLearning as a viable educational tool.”

Online learning expands the course offerings that schools are able to provide, and in some cases it can serve students who don’t do well in traditional classrooms. “The vast majority of students who are taking virtual learning courses are taking them to supplement their current class load,” Stroud said.

Links:

The White House
http://www.whitehouse.gov

“Strengthening Education and Job Training Opportunities”
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/09/print/20040902-3.html

U.S. Education Department
http://www.ed.gov

North America Council for Online Learning
http://www.nacol.org

John Kerry for President
http://www.johnkerry.com/index.html